Faye Skelton gives me some frightening examples of false confessions which led to convictions. Come and hear more from her to be truly terrified at her
show ‘Suspect Confessions’ on the 17th August at the New Town Theatre.
Are there any famous examples of false confessions?
There are many famous cases of false confessions. One of the most famous in the UK is the case of the Birmingham Six, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for a series of pub bombings in 1974 that left 21 people dead and almost 200 injured. In 1991 the Court of Appeal quashed their convictions on the basis that their confessions had been given after a series of coercive and unethical interrogation tactics had been used on them. An example of a current case is that of Brendan Dassey, one of the subjects of the Making a Murderer TV series. The circumstances under which Dassey confessed are troubling, and he maintains his innocence, yet the US Supreme Court has just denied his last appeal.
Did any one example particularly inspire your research?
One case that interested me growing up was that of Stephan Kiszco, who was wrongly convicted of the sexual assault and murder of 11 year old Lesley Molseed in Rochdale in 1975. Kizsco served 16 years in prison before his conviction was overturned, and again examination of the circumstances surrounding his confession are very concerning. In this case there was evidence that the police investigators suppressed evidence proving his innocence, and took advantage of his vulnerabilities.
How can we avoid more of these examples being created?
One of the key problems is that it is counter-intuitive to admit to something you haven’t done, especially a crime that could get you in to serious trouble. The vast majority of people believe that they would never do this, and so believe that innocent people wouldn’t confess to a crime. This means that if a confession is given, it can hold more sway than any other evidence presented to juries. Our own confirmation bias can lead us to discount evidence to the contrary and find issues with its reliability. There is however overwhelming research evidence showing that particular interview techniques can lead innocent people to confess, particularly children and vulnerable adults. TV shows such as The Confession Tapes are now helping to raise awareness of some of these cases so that the public are better informed of the dangers.